My History of World Religion classes are covering Hinduism, and these central concepts from the Upanishads are central to the Hindu tradition;
Six Concepts from the Upanishads
Brahman-The divine reality underlying all things. It is reality itself, pure consciousness, and bliss. It is the way thing are in the final analysis, when we see reality without illusion (maya). Unlike the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, The Hindu Brahman is not a transcendent creator and sustainer of the world but is the universe itself. It is beyond time and space, hence in the Hindu tradition space and time themselves are only the world as it appears to us, not the world as it is in itself.
Hence for the mainstream philosophical tradition of Hinduism, everything is one and everything is God. If I were to convene class and said “I am God” you would all think I was nuts, because our concept of God is a transcendent creator. In Hinduism no one would raise an eyebrow.
Atman: Called the self or soul, but really the deepest self. It is what is fundamental to me as an individual. However, in the last analysis, the Hindus teach that the deepest self really is God. One can achieve moksha, in some tradition, by realizing that atman is Brahman.
Maya is illusion, the root word is the same as the English root word for magic. The world, for the Hindu, is real but not what it appears to be. (I’m really God, but I appear to need glasses in order to see). It appears to be temporal, but it isn’t. It appears to be material, but it really is spiritual, it appears to be unconscious, but it is conscious. I appear not to have lived before, but I have.
Karma: The moral law of cause and effect. It is in accordance with the law of Karma that my past and future incarnations are determined. A bad life may result in my being reincarnated as a poor person or an animal.
Samsara is the cycle of birth and rebirth. Continuously being reincarnated again and again is considered to be a bad thing. As our reincarnations continue, we long to put a stop to the whole thing, to no longer be reincarnated.
Moksha is liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. According to the Upanishads this is the ultimate human goal. (It is not, as we shall see, the only goal worth pursuing.) It involves getting beyond one’s own ego and the limits of being an individual. Imagine what your day is like. You wake up, you want to get to work on time, you hope your boss is happy with your work and that you are successful, you come home and hope your relationships with your family go well, If you are dating, you hope that those relationships work out and you don’t have to break up, etc. But if you reach moksha you get beyond such concerns. Detaching yourself from pleasure and pain also helps lead to freedom.